What's Tony Thinking

Look Who’s Making America Great Again


For those who regard irony as a delectable dish, the announcement of the Biden infrastructure plan is quite the feast.

Trump was right. American greatness was on the skids. But his idea of greatness had little to do with the reality of the thing. He defined greatness as gaudy wealth and power, or at least the appearance of it. Greatness for him meant being a blustering bully.

Biden seems to be on the path to actually putting some flesh on the bones of American greatness. He hasn’t stopped with addressing the immediate crisis of the pandemic. He is moving on, turning to an American infrastructure that has been neglected for forty years.

Over roughly that time Republicans, who preached “trickle down” and “government is the enemy,” let us watch as public life and institutions were neglected while private excess and display flourished.

Biden’s plan is not only a counter to Trump’s empty bluster, it is also a challenge to claims of the woke that America is irredeemable. At least in some quarters we have grown accustomed not just to the idea that America is flawed, and that our flaws and failures must be owned and addressed, but that the whole enterprise is a hoax and and cover up precisely for guys like Trump. Here’s where the extremes circle round to meet, both despairing of American democracy.

Peggy Noonan in her April 3 “Declarations” column caught the way that the Biden effort is cutting two directions at once. It strikes against Trumpist mendacity and whipping up a never-ending sense of grievance, but it also challenges CRT’s reduction of everything to a story of the oppressors against the oppressed. Here’s Noonan:

“We’ve been talking about our falling bridges, corroded tunnels and general civic ugliness for 25 years. If this bill actually turns out to be about building roads and tunnels and railways and undergirding bridges, people will like it. I will like it. If people can see it happening—if on the two or three days a week they commute into the city, big crews of human beings in safety vests and hardhats are out there building things—they’ll like it a lot.

“Some part of my mind thinks it will be received as the first gesture of national self-respect in a long time, a visual counter to wokeness and critical race theory. We may hate our history, our ugly beginnings and our hypocrisy but apparently we still have enough confidence to build a soaring bridge we can use, and to make the highways look better.”

Locally, here in Seattle, there’s something afoot that is a rough sort of parallel. A broad alliance of local stakeholders has put together a plan to address Seattle’s homelessness crisis. Homelessness was, as Seattle Times columnist, Danny Westneat, notes declared an “emergency” five years ago. It was declared an emergency but not really treated like one.

Former City Council member and interim Mayor, Tim Burgess, has been a key leader on this. The idea is basically to create the shelter and housing needed, provide the services for addiction and mental health required, and then say camping on public property and living on the streets isn’t okay. See also Kevin Schofield’s report on this at Post Alley. 

As Noonan remarked about Biden’s infrastructure plan, this Seattle plan evidences a kind of too long absent civic self-respect. We don’t have to accept the trashing of communities or allowing people to live in terrible conditions. We can do better.

Neither America nor Seattle will ever get it all completely right. We don’t live a world where perfection or complete justice is going to happen. But we can do better. Maybe making America, and Seattle, better is a worthy goal.




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